UW grads turn school project into Joe Chocolates business

Apr 30, 2017, 9:00 AM
Joe Chocolate...
Jason and Burns try some Joe Chocolates. Each bag contains about as much caffeine as two cups of coffee. (Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)
(Dyer Oxley, MyNorthwest)
LISTEN: Sam Tanner Peter Keckemet started Joe’s Chocolate while in a University of Washington business class, and now it’s getting sold at Nordstrom.

Sam Tanner got quite a kick out of the final project for his entrepreneurial course at the University of Washington. Part of that could be because his project involved chocolate dosed with caffeine. But even after graduating, Tanner is pushing Joe Chocolates further as a growing business.

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“Who’s Joe? That’s the question. Joe as in a ‘cup of Joe,'” Tanner explained. “In each bag is about two cups of Joe. That’s one of the most common questions we get from our customers. We have a line of shirts coming out that say ‘Who’s Joe?’ across the back.”

“It’s coffee chocolate,” he said. “It’s all natural coffee. It comes from actual coffee beans. So there are whole beans and espresso powder in every single one of our packages.”

Joe Chocolates

Tanner isn’t alone in his post-graduation entrepreneurial venture. While many of the school project’s original participants have moved on to take jobs, his friend and roommate Peter Keckemet has jumped aboard to get the business moving. Keckemet is also a recent UW graduate. Now the 22-year-old entrepreneurs have been working seven days a week to promote Joe Chocolates. And it seems to be working.

“We were an extremely successful product because we made something that people kind of got addicted to and kept wanting to eat over and over and over again,” Tanner said.

The two UW graduates took some time over the summer to get the business set up, then launched the caffeinated chocolate product in November 2016. In the six months since then, they have expanded into 130 retail locations — from the UW Book Store to Nordstrom. And they have sparked investor interest, though, they can’t divulge the details of that just yet.

Joe Chocolates has three flavors: Midnight coconut; roasted almond; and salted caramel, which is their best-seller.

“We started selling this like crazy,” Tanner said. “We found out that people absolutely loved it. It’s high-quality chocolate with a really good benefit.”

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UW grads turn school project into Joe Chocolates business